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Fashion designer Mara Hoffman’s first visit to the SoHo storefront ended with a hard no. “It was a gut feeling; it wasn’t the right environment,” she remembers. Then she revisited the brick-and-mortar three years later. This time she left with a signed lease. “There was something about the light,” Hoffman says with a laugh. 

While it may not seem like ideal timing for a shop opening, what with the midwinter Omicron spike, Hoffman insists that a sense of community is needed now more than ever. For the design of her new stomping grounds, she partnered with Lisha Bai, founder of Studio Archive Project, an art gallery also focused on connection. “Mara’s process is layered and guided by creative instinct, much like furnishing a home,” says Bai. We discovered how the space informs the decor and vice versa—starting with Gloria, the giant palm tree that greets you at the front door.

The Plants

“Gloria is my biggest stressor,” Hoffman jokes. “Even more so than trying to design the next collection.” Because the humidity-loving species is placed in front of the door, the windy, crisp New York City weather has been a constant battle. When the store is closed, Hoffman cranks the heat to offer a little overnight help. 

She has always been drawn to flora, picking plants off of garbage piles on the curb just as frequently as she buys them in the city’s Flower District. In her shop, however, the foliage curation is a bit less haphazard. “For me, it’s about scale, about creating an emotional response,” Hoffman explains. Her beloved palm is positioned to draw you inside, while the pothos and monstera leaves along the back wall highlight the architectural steps. 

The Little Details

The artwork in the shop, curated by Bai, will rotate every few months. “I just love the idea that this space can be a living, breathing organism that isn’t just set up and done. It’s not like a franchise,” says Hoffman. 

The first artist to be featured, ceramist Elisa Soliven, was a natural choice for both Bai and Hoffman. “Elisa’s sculptural work relates very much to the body. By referencing the hips, feet, face, and torso, her surfaces reveal the history of its making,” explains Bai, much like Hoffman’s clothing. A vase sits on the checkout counter, while another few can be found in the fitting room alcoves. The cutouts provide display spots without cluttering the already limited floor space (take note, anyone with equally restrictive square footage).

The Lighting

Despite Mara Hoffman being a fashion brand, the clothing didn’t dictate the store’s atmosphere as much as emotion did. Hoffman is a self-described “guttural designer”—everything she does is based on how she wants to feel. And while shopping, that feeling is engaged and comfortable—trying on a linen frock under fluorescent lights is a no go. Instead ceiling-mounted fixtures with ultra-flattering, warm-tone bulbs adorn each curtain-lined corner. (You get bonus scene-setting points if your lamps at home have a golden glow and are on a dimmer.) “At some point, your relationship with that dress will end,” Hoffman explains. “But the experience of a new environment, that will stay with you.”